It is almost refreshing for a film festival like Cinemalaya to open itself to not one, but three films that take us into the redeeming gripes of the privileged class: Ang Nawawala, Give Up Tomorrow, and The Animals. Ang Nawawala has been accused in one review for being an inauthentic (or unreal) portrayal of Manila youth, but is actually a real depiction of what I consider to be a microbial Manila scene. Give Up Tomorrow is a sniper of a documentary showing us that even the high and mighty conyo class is no match against the injustices of the Philippine judiciary system. The first two have thus far displayed cinematic brilliance in spite of its ‘problematic’ setting, and I am reluctant to say this, but I don’t know what happened with The Animals.
The premise ought to have been good: it was meant to feed us with the ‘ins’ behind these gated houses, and it was meant to tell us of its power and the shortcoming of its power. The bravery was exciting. Other than the portrayal of a fraternity in Mike de Leon’s Batch ‘81, nothing similar to this comes to mind. Here was the power to redeem or mock a lifestyle that would have had us love to hate it. And I wanted to love it. But instead, the love failed to surface.
I may be writing this with insecurity, because I was never invited to these parties when I was in high school. When asked if my school had parties like this, my hesitant response was “I really wouldn’t know.” And so when the lights dimmed and the opening credits were thrown on screen, I thought, “now’s the time to know”.
To give the film credit, it was beautifully set-up. The acting was convincing– the casting was pulled-off well. The portrayals of the privileged private school experience were initially executed down-pat. Through cafeteria conversations of upper middle class affectation, we got to see character dynamics of a time a lot of us have since forgotten. We saw a worried mother in the car letting their children grow up by trying to be cool with her children going to Jake’s party. We saw the opening of university acceptance letters. We saw the magnitude of these ‘co-ed’ parties. As part of the audience, it was almost like we were in for a ride. When the film showed us how early on how these kids were given their allowances, or later, at the party, how young teenagers fell over on other people’s vomit in the bathroom with their friends holding their friends’ hair, I felt the film understood what these parties were about.
But somewhere along the line, someone decided to knit a moral underpinning around the indulgence. Perhaps this was my mistake for being deluded about its daredevil, monkey wrench presence. I thought it was saying, “Cinemalaya, this is who you underrepresent, this is how unforgiving we are, and we don’t care if you hate us.” But then, it was as though, halfway through filming, their parents started to tell them off, and with this influence, with this fear, they decided to unleash all the demons that swim in parents’ minds instead. Subplots were lost in the scramble of pleasing a parental audience. It soon became not unrealistic, but out of the control of the plot’s hands, and it soon became what I had tried to dissuade many people from reducing the film into: a Filipino ‘Skins’.
The switch and bait left the film gaping for the indulgent subversion that didn’t have contrived moral implications. Well, okay, the film was indulgently subversive (and that’s great), but not in a way that could ever be more than a horror film for parents. I feel that even the kids in the film (and the kids of whom this film was about) felt a little cheated.
This is a spoiler so don’t read it if you don’t want to, but I have one last point to make: making a manyak taxi driver the scapegoat of worst case scenarios after being nearly Rohypnol-ed by a douchebag who tries to rape you in a Ford van after fighting with you boyfriend– does that mean you have to stay with your boyfriend or, option two, get raped by his co-organizer? Not only does it sound like a paranoid parent talking, but it sounds like a badly portrayed rape scene–if you can’t do so carefully, then please don’t try. There’s a way of not making poverty porn so literal, or women so destined to be abused in the style of Final Destination. There’s definitely a way of presenting this scene and other disappointing scenes, in the way that the film, for the first thirty minutes, had gotten right.